Even though the coronavirus pandemic has forced the Whitman-Walker Clinic to stage its 34th annual Walk & 5K Run to End HIV virtually this Saturday the mission of one of the city’s beloved institutions is strong as ever.
Instead of mass movement of joggers and walkers following a course through the District, participants can make their own schedule and route to walk or run between now and Dec. 31.
“The Walk is imperative to helping Whitman-Walker deliver affordable and dignifying HIV care, prevention and wellness services,” said Naseema Shafi, CEO of Whitman-Walker Health. “We are grateful for the support we’ve received from the entire community for decades and hope they will continue to support us again this year.”
“We will not compromise care,” said Dr. Colleen Lane, Medical Site Director at Max Robinson Center in Southeast. She said in the early weeks of the pandemic her staff made a quick “pivot,” to telemedicine and procuring the necessary supplies to keep things a range of services going and the rate of COVID-19 cases is slightly above the average in the District.
Ramatoulaye Keita, senior manager of Community Health at Whitman-Walker Health, said “COVID-19 didn’t stop us from getting to our folks,” and Kevin Jordan Contreras, PrEP Navigator at Whitman-Walker Health, said that even though they had to deal with social distancing and wearing masks, “it is our patients that give us strength. It’s our motivation.”
Elcid Johnson, 26, Youth Ambassador at Whitman-Walker Youth Services, has since age 14 worked at Metro TeenAIDS (MTA), which became part of Whitman-Walker in 2015. Johnson, who works with young people between 13 and 24, said the crises of 2020 has not stopped people from caring for the neediest.
“Adolescents want to know that people care and we try to see people in person as much as possible,” said Johnson, adding that while, like other young people, he has dealt with his share of bullying, he learned from mentors that “there comes a time when you have to speak up.”
Derrick “Strawberry” Cox, an artist and Board member at Whitman-Walker, said whether it is dealing with COVID-19 or keeping his HIV-positive status manageable, the main challenge he sees is attitude.
”I need people to understand that your health comes first, ” Cox said. ”The issue I have with my Black friends and my Black gay friends is, why does someone have to die before we take things seriously? Why don’t we feel the need ahead of time?”
Cox said he is a strong supporter of the 5K event because it is about awareness and ”living your life authentically.”